If the trendy teal smoothie bowl (it gets its eye-candy hue thanks to edible seaweed spirulina) has thrilled your senses of well-being, there’s another algae in town fighting for a “health food” title: chlorella.
So what is chlorella?
“Chlorella grows in fresh waters and is also commercially manufactured and produced,” explains Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN. This means that you can find it in various forms of consumption, such as powders, tablets, capsules and extracts.
Now you know it’s another edible seaweed, but its nutrient composition and claims that it can help with a host of health issues are what brought it to the surface. “It is becoming a more widely recognized dietary supplement,” explains Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D.., clinical biochemist, author and founder of the Institute of Functional Medicine. Chlorella contains a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and more, and is said to help with everything from blood sugar control to detoxification.
But there’s still a lot of research to be done before science tells us for sure if chlorella deserves a place in a healthy diet or if it’s just dressed in a health halo. “So far, the majority of studies have been conducted on animals or a very small human sample, so we have to be careful about making bold claims about chlorella’s ability to be a dietary miracle,” adds Shaw. Additionally, nutritional values often vary depending on the form of chlorella you consume.
Here are some of the potential health benefits of chlorella.
Chlorella is packed with nutrients.
Although research on the potential of chlorella to positively impact specific aspects of health still has some way to go, one thing we do know is that it is a nutritional powerhouse and that those it contains confer benefits. Chlorella is a source of:
“Chlorella contains vitamin D and vitamin B12, which are two nutrients not found in many plant foods,” says Shaw, and its higher levels of folate and iron are also remarkable.
Chlorella can target free radicals.
Carotenoids are important antioxidants, and you may recognize them as the plant compounds that give fruits and vegetables their orange or yellow hues (in this case, the chlorophyll content in chlorella pushes its hue all the way to green). Chlorella carotenoids can help rid the body of free radicalsthat is left unchecked can cause damage and lead to the development of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cognitive impairment, says Shaw.
Chlorella can support immunity.
“We know that vitamin D is linked to good immune health, and a study found that chlorella may have the potential to boost immunity,” says Shaw, but more research is needed to determine which form and dose would be most beneficial. In general, vitamin D plays a role in the regulation of the immune system and has anti-inflammatory properties; keeping an eye on inflammation helps your immune system work better.
Chlorella is a complete protein.
Not All Protein Sources Are Created Equal – Some Are complete proteinswhich contain all nine essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce on their own, and (you guessed it!) incomplete proteins only contain some of these amino acids.
Since chlorella is a type of complete protein, it contains the amino acids that create the building blocks for the formation of bones, tissues and muscles.
Chlorella may promote eye health.
Although no specific studies have been conducted to explore chlorella and vision health, search shows that carotenoids, especially lutein, can help improve age-related macular diseases or prevent their development in the first place — and chlorella is one source of these eye aids, says Shaw.
Chlorella fights inflammation.
The vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and omega-3s found in chlorella are known to have anti-inflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation can damage cells over time and is associated with the development of chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, Diabetesarthritis, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Chlorella may support good heart health.
Clinical research on the potential impact of chlorella on heart health is needed, but the algae is a source of omega-3 fatty acids, which we know are part of a heart-healthy diet. Omega-3s are thought to promote heart health by lowering levels of triglycerides (fats) in the blood, slightly lowering blood pressure and controlling inflammation.
Chlorella may contribute to healthy blood.
Chlorella contains three crucial nutrients for the formation of red blood cells: iron, folate and vitamin B12. Blood is what carries oxygen throughout your body so your organs, muscles, and more can function as they should.
How to supplement with chlorella:
Although more studies are needed to determine exactly how chlorella may support various aspects of good health, you may want to consume it in order to benefit from all the vitamins and minerals it contains. “As with all supplements, I recommend speaking with your doctor first to make sure this is the right choice for you,” says Shaw, and for advice on dosage.
Chlorella powders can be added to smoothies, soups, and even dips like guacamole or hummus. Whether you choose a supplement in powder, capsule, extract, or tablet form, look for reputable companies that perform third-party testing, says Shaw.
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